Saturday, April 27, 2019

La Fiancée du pirate

1969, France, directed by Nelly Kaplan

I thought that Yves Boisset's Dupont Lajoie was pretty acid in its analysis of French society, but Nelly Kaplan's first feature film is at least as bleak, and certainly more thorough in its merciless dissection of the mores of its small-town setting. At times, Kaplan's wide-ranging condemnation recalls Simenon, though Kaplan is far more interested in society's view of women than Simenon ever was. The film constantly surprises in its tone, veering from the cynical to the carnivalesque, with Bernadette Lafont providing a central performance of exceptional energy and frankness that still feels fresh today, even if the character's turning-of-the-tables might take a different form in 2019.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Police Story 2

1988, Hong Kong, directed by Jackie Chan

A letdown -- the film opens with a summary of the exceptional stuntwork of the first film, and little
that follows has much of the same rhythm and verve.

Sunday, April 07, 2019

Dupont Lajoie

1975, France, directed by Yves Boisset

Boisset had a decent run of films in the 1970s, taking a fairly left-of-centre perspective, with this perhaps his most acid picture, a disturbing portrait of French society and its dealings with outsiders, specifically France's Arab population, though other, nearer neighbours' "true" Frenchness also comes under the microscope as la France profonde defends its interests. Jean Carmet is excellent, and quite disturbing, in an atypical role, while Isabelle Huppert lights things up in a fairly early screen appearance. 

Saturday, April 06, 2019

The Bigamist

1953, US, directed by Ida Lupino

An unusually frank film, for its time, with respect to social mores, focused on a salesman who is attempting to juggle two relationships, though the picture has to stretch credibility a little to accommodate this situation in a manner that keeps the central character sympathetic.While the film seems to start out as a justification for male misbehaviour, as the narrative unspools it becomes something a good deal more interesting, a discussion of how the standard boxes don't work for every situation, and where women, in particular, are likely to fall foul of social regulations that determine acceptable behaviour. The film is quite up front about this, engineering situations in which conversations about stifling convention are reasonably credible, while Lupino makes ample time for us to hear from the two women -- they're anything but subordinate to the story. It might make a good pairing with the slightly earlier That Brennan Girl.

Friday, April 05, 2019

The Jane Austen Book Club

2007, US, directed by Robin Swicord

Monday, April 01, 2019


1938, France, directed by Robert Siodmak

An assured film from Siodmak's French period, though with a somewhat unusual structure -- it almost feels like two different films, albeit both featuring the same protagonist, with the capacious frame a tale of domestic spite and poison and the inset a rousing sketch of colonial skulduggery in Shanghai (a pretty common backdrop at the time). Harry Baur is in fine form as the titular Mollenard, a merchant marine captain facing ruin and shame, a circumstance that brings every dark aspect of his relationship with his wife, played by Gabrielle Dorziat, to the fore. The film rigs the game somewhat, though, by making Dorziat's character so utterly unsympathetic -- the same rather unpleasant trick Renoir played in La Chienne -- that the audience is cast on the side of the criminal by default. Still, the downbeat ending manages to channel something of the spirit of Quai des brumes, made the same year, with the two films also sharing Eugen Schüfftan as director of photography.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Ant-Man and the Wasp

2018, US, directed by Peyton Reed

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Hollow Triumph

1948, US, directed by Steve Sekely

A neat, small-scale B-noir, with Paul Henreid in good form in a classic Hollywood dual role that wouldn't stand up to a moment's scrutiny out in the real world, and yet it works, partly because the film is so committed to its inevitable, utterly downbeat conclusion. There's also some especially fine cinematography by John Alton, deep in an exceptionally productive and successful period of his career, with this film released around the same time as the equally striking T-Men and He Walked By Night.

Monday, March 18, 2019

So Dark the Night

1946, US, directed by Joseph S. Lewis

Lewis is one of those filmmakers who is so deliberate with his choices that it's almost impossible not to be aware that there's a director at work, making conscious choices over each aspect of the structure and storytelling. Nothing is careless or accidental, for instance in his exceptional use of framing -- here there are frames within frames, grids, or lamps and other objects that unexpectedly intrude in the foreground, forcing the eye to look around to focus on the actors, or ask just why the camera is placed there and what this conveys of the directorial eye. All this is at the service of a story that's frankly on the outer edges of B-movie credibility, in an odd, out-of-time version of rural France, and yet that barely matters as the plot advances and Lewis centers in more and more tightly on a disintegrating mind.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

The Wonders

2014, Italy, directed by Alice Rohrwacher (aka Le meraviglie)

On the surface level a coming-of-age tale, and often a very affecting and unusual one, but deeper down a dissection of family -- both the ones allocated and chosen -- and, in the particular rural context, of the role of uncompensated labour within the family structure. The routines, often back-breaking, of children's work are depicted with great care, perhaps drawn from Rohrwacher'w own background, with the dividing line between domestic chores and work toward supporting the family income at best tenuous, particularly under the domination of a forbidding patriarch. The young actors, particularly Maria Alexandra Lungu as the oldest of the children, are excellent, while the particular non-touristy settings (in Tuscany and Lazio) peel back another layer of Italian life.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Wednesday, February 13, 2019


1939, France, directed by Robert Siodmak

French-period Siodmak, and very brisk fun: seen shortly after Sirk's remake, as Lured/Personal Column, the debt owed by the later film is a good deal more obvious, with certain sequences essentially shot-for-shot reproductions, though the actors give each film a nice variation in flavor. 

Saturday, February 09, 2019

A nos amours

1983, France, directed by Maurice Pialat

Perhaps the most unsettling film in the Pialat canon, in large part because of the director's extraordinary onscreen presence. The genuine rigours, both emotional and physical, through which the actors are put are very apparent here, with them forced to react to Pialat-as-actor's incredibly unpredictability and even violence, not least in the extraordinary dinner-party scene where his character returns to the family home after a period of exile and throws what seems like a new equilibirum utterly off-balance. Pialat is a terrific, though challenging, actor in his own right, and on the strength of this film it's not hard to see why others might not have wanted to direct him, though he seems to have enjoyed considerable loyalty from several actors who returned several times to his sets.

Monday, February 04, 2019

Mélodie en sous-sol

1963, France, directed by Henri Verneuil

A weaker entry in the Gabin canon, though never without interest, not least as the first of three films uniting Gabin with Alain Delon, cast very much as the youthful rebel. The opening, set in under-construction Sarcelles, is quite fascinating, with Gabin's character returning from prison to a transformed landscape; the oppressive effect of the new construction is reminiscent of the tone of Gabin's slightly later, and much more challenging, Le Chat, set against a similar background. While the locations in the opening going make a real impact, the subsequent blend of location and studio shooting is very rough-edged, with the studio sets so obviously artificial.

Friday, February 01, 2019

Destry Rides Again

1939, US, directed by George Marshall

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Touchez pas au grisbi

1953, France, directed by Jacques Becker

One of the true marvels of the French gangster genre, with its own codes and conventions, quite different to the American counterparts -- impossible to imagine the wonderful scene of two men sharing a late-night sandwich, never mind the subsequent scene when they brush their teeth, in an American movie of the period. As magnetic as Gabin was in the pre-war years, he's rarely been as magnificent as on this occasion -- every moment he's offscreen you sense his influence, even with the wonderful supporting cast (Dary, Ventura, Moreau, Frankeur and more).

Deux hommes dans la ville

1973, France/Italy, directed by José Giovanni

The final film featuring both Gabin and Delon, with the older star ceding much of the running time to his younger, though already established, counterpart; indeed, Gabin is offscreen for a great deal of the film, which focuses on Delon's character, recently released from prison and attempting to go straight (Gabin plays his parole officer). Gabin is in peak avuncular mode, the éminence grise who has seen it all, though even then he doesn't have Delon's special line in world-weariness. The film is blunt on the impact of prison and the challenges of rehabilitation, though director José Giovanni had his own complex, up-close relationship to the institution of incarceration -- he willingly collaborated with the German occupation, and was involved in various gangland activities, ending up in prison for more than eleven years before beginning his second act as a novelist and filmmaker while carefully occluding the less savoury details of his past. While the film is ultimately less profound than Giovanni would like us to believe, some of the details on the French legal system are piquant, while Gérard Depardieu and Bernard Giraudeau make notable early appearances.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Sudden Fear

1952, US, directed by David Miller

A film that I'd wanted to see after reading Farran Smith Nehme's very engaging appreciation in Film Comment, this did not disappoint, a noir with a deep vein of high-pitch melodrama. Joan Crawford is excellent in one of the strongest roles of her later career, reacting to the most alarming of circumstances and setting in motion a plot of her own, while she gets particularly good support from Jack Palance, so angular here that he looks like an actor as drawn by Picasso at times.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Yankee Doodle Dandy

1942, US, directed by Michael Curtiz

Le Grand blond avec une chaussure noire

1972, France, directed by Yves Robert

Saturday, January 05, 2019

That Brennan Girl

1946, US, directed by Alfred Santell

Watched after Farran Nehme wrote about this as part of a retrospective of Republic Pictures films. As the article suggests, the film is quite fascinating in its use of formal devices, to show the passage of time or to push the viewer to greater investment in the action, among other things. It's also very much of its 1946 moment, with a husband lost to the war, and if the conclusion ultimately seems a little too neat it's hard to deny the titular girl her moment in the sun.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Monkey Business

1931, US, directed by Norman Z. McLeod

Kicking off 2019 with the Marx Brothers on the big screen; the kids were alternately nonplussed (Groucho's breakneck speechifying, the creakier reference points) and delighted (every musical and slapstick moment, and a smattering of the verbal wit). With popcorn and soda thrown in, I think they were a good deal more pro than con.


List of all movies

Most of the images here are either studio publicity stills or screen captures I've made myself; if I've taken your image without giving you credit, please let me know.

About Me

Boston, Massachusetts, United States